EDP Sciences
Free access
Volume 505, Number 2, October II 2009
Page(s) 497 - 508
Section Extragalactic astronomy
DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.1051/0004-6361/200912316
Published online 03 August 2009
A&A 505, 497-508 (2009)
DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361/200912316

Milky Way versus Andromeda: a tale of two disks

J. Yin1, 2, J. L. Hou1, N. Prantzos3, S. Boissier4, R. X. Chang1, S. Y. Shen1, and B. Zhang5

1  Key Laboratory for Research in Galaxies and Cosmology, Shanghai Astronomical Observatory, CAS, 80 Nandan Road, Shanghai, 200030, PR China
    e-mail: houjl@shao.ac.cn
2  Graduate School, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, 100039, PR China
3  CNRS, UMR7095, Institut d'Astrophysique de Paris, 75014 Paris, France
4  Laboratoire d'Astrophysique de Marseille, BP8, Traverse du Siphon, 13376 Marseille Cedex 12, France
5  Department of Physics, Hebei Normal University, 113 Yuhua Dong Road, Shijiazhuang, 050016, PR China

Received 10 April 2009 / Accepted 22 June 2009

Aims. We study the chemical evolution of the disks of the Milky Way (MW) and of Andromeda (M 31), to identify the common properties and differences between the two major galaxies of the Local Group.
Methods. We use a large set of observational data for M 31, including observations of the star formation rate (SFR) and gas profiles, as well as stellar metallicity distributions along its disk. When expressed in terms of the corresponding disk scale lengths, we show that the observed radial profiles of MW and M 31 exhibit interesting similarities, suggesting the possibility of a description within a common framework.
Results. We find that the profiles of stars, gas fraction, and metallicity of the two galaxies, as well as most of their global properties, are well described by our model, provided that the star formation efficiency in M 31 disk is twice as high as in the MW. We show that the star formation rate profile of M 31 cannot be described by any form of the Kennicutt-Schmidt law (KS Law) for star formation. We propose that these discrepancies are caused by the fact that M 31 has an active star formation history in the recent past, consistent with the hypotheses of a “head-on” collision with the neighboring galaxy (most probably M 32) about 200 Myr ago.
Conclusions. The MW has most probably experienced quiescent secular evolution, making possible a fairly successful description with a simple model. If M 31 is more typical of spiral galaxies, more complex models, involving galaxy interactions, will be required for the description of spirals.

Key words: Galaxy: disk -- Galaxy: formation -- galaxies: evolution -- Local Group -- galaxies: individual: M 31 -- galaxies: abundances

© ESO 2009